Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fort Lauderdale Building Owner Takes Financial Hit As City Commission Saddles Property w/ Historic Status Designation; City Offers No Program To Compensate Owner For Lost Property Value

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:
  • A piece of the city's history was saved Tuesday — over the objections of its owner. City commissioners awarded historic status to the former Towers Apartments building, a 1925 Mediterranean Revival structure by famed architect Luis Abreu.

    The building, currently the Towers Retirement Home at 824 SE Second St. in the Beverly Heights community, operates as an assisted living facility for people with mental health issues. The historic designation was requested by the Broward Trust for Historic Preservation. Property owner Mark Nelson said it would create an economic hardship for his family.

    "If the city thinks the building is that important, I would be willing to sell it to you at fair market value," Nelson said, questioning its historic value. "It's an ugly, square commercial building."

    Commissioners sympathized with Nelson and were concerned about possibly infringing on his property rights, but said the building was clearly historic and met the city's requirements for designation.

    Only Vice Mayor Robert McKinzie voted against the action. "I can't support the ordinance because it's someone's property rights," McKinzie said.

    Other commissioners approved the measure with reservations, asking city staff to bring them options showing ways that might be of help to Nelson and others put in a similar position. "I think we need to look for some type of solution to help the property owner," Commissioner Bruce Roberts said.

    The move comes after commissioners recently rejected historic designations for a pair of 1930s beach properties that are going to be torn down to make way for a new AC Hotel by Marriott.

    Mayor Jack Seiler said those situations were different because of alterations made to the buildings over the years and because the neighbors seeking the historic designations were just as interested in blocking the hotel's development. "Those were of questionable historical value. They were of questionable historical significance," Seiler said. "This building's different."

    The Towers building features barrel tile, stucco facades, square columns, conical towers and a central courtyard, all typical of its style. It was the largest apartment building in Broward County for years and catered to a wealthy clientele of snowbirds.

    Its designation doesn't prevent changes to the building, but requires those changes to be approved by the city's Historic Preservation Board.

    Steve Glassman, president of the Broward Trust, encouraged commissioners to work with Nelson to see whether tax abatements, tax credits or other assistance is available. "Not designating this site would be unconscionable," Glassman told commissioners.

    Stephen Tilbrook, an attorney for Nelson, said potential buyers lose interest because of the historic designation. "It certainly impairs the value of the property," Tilbrook said. "This owner has had two contracts [to sell the property] that have been canceled since this application has been filed."
Source: Lauderdale retirement home gets historic designation.

See also, Lauderdale wrestles with preservation vs. property rights:
  • The city's preservation rules don't require an owner's consent for designation, but taking such a step has given commissioners pause because of the perceived infringement on property rights.

    "I have some serious concerns [that] anybody can file an application on anybody else's property," Commissioner Bruce Roberts said. "Personally, I don't think it's appropriate for somebody to come in and say, 'I'm designating your property historic and therefore you can't do anything to it until you go through A, B and C again.' I don't think that's correct."

    Preservationists say sometimes that's the only way a building can be saved when faced with an uncooperative owner.

    But Nelson said property rights need to be respected.

    "This has been a nightmare for me and my family," Nelson said. "It's nearly impossible to operate a business in this environment. We can't sell the property. We can't sell the business. We can't even freely improve our property."

    If the designation is approved, any alterations to the building would have to be approved by the preservation board. Preservation isn't cheap and the city has no program to compensate owners for lost property value.

    Nelson told the preservation board that he has had offers of $5.5 million for the property. He said potential developers were talking about tearing the building down, not restoring it, offers that he said would disappear if the building is given protected status.

    "What are they going to do for the property owners? What are they going to do to make this right?" Nelson asked. "They need to change the ordinance."

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